If the current situation that we find ourselves in tells us anything, it’s that community and the goodwill of people is to be treasured above all else. However, it’s certainly not a new thing that communities come together during a crisis. In 1929, Loake’s Wood Street factory caught fire. The results were devastating. However, despite the extensive damage, almost immediately the local Kettering community pulled together, in the most selfless and extraordinary way and production resumed within a week. Here Andrew Loake recounts his father’s memories of the event…

I don’t think it can be pure coincidence that the date in 1929 on which the factory caught fire was 5th November. It has always been assumed, but never known for certain, that the cause of it was a firework. All of the Clicking (cutting) room, most of the Closing (stitching) room and the leather room were destroyed.

My father was born in Kettering and grew up in a small house in one of the neighbouring streets just a few hundred yards from the factory. Although only a 7-year-old boy at the time, he had very clear memories of looking out of his parents’ bedroom window and seeing the flames of his father’s factory on fire. The damage was devastating.

Later in life, when he looked back on these events, he was amazed by the friendliness of the people of Kettering.

The morning after the fire, other shoe manufacturers in the town were already offering us help by lending us machinery and by offering temporary accommodation for some of the workers. Machinery suppliers were also very quick to offer their help by providing replacement machines at short notice.

Many of the clickers (leather cutters) worked from bedrooms in neighbouring houses.

It really was quite extraordinary how people who would normally be in competition with us were rallying round to help. It is perhaps worth remembering that at that time, it had only been 10 years since the end of the First World War, and I suppose people were used to the idea of trying to survive in extraordinary circumstances and helping others who were in difficulty.

That said, it’s not a new thing that communities come together during a crisis. I think that the way in which disasters can draw a community together is a hallmark of a civilised society, and if our current situation regarding Covid-19 tells us anything, it’s that community and the goodwill of people is to be treasured above all else.

Andrew Loake

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Spring Summer 2023

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  • One Reply to “Fire at Wood Street”

    1. What a fine story, AEL. War is crap but it does seem to bring out the best in some people. I do wonder what would happen now, but I do remember hearing/reading that at least some of the current proper-job shoemaking MDs were reasonably pally on overseas trade missions! I will cherish the possibility that the same cobblers-collegiality would emerge again … and hope that my cherish is never put to the test!


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